In the first edition of Consulting Cosplay, I placed Lance Leipold at Nebraska, Jamey Chadwell at Georgia Tech, and Matt Rhule at Arizona State. Now, I’m back to fix the next three available jobs: Wisconsin, Colorado, and Charlotte
Wisconsin: Interim Head Coach Jim Leonhard
Wisconsin made the decision this past month to move on from Paul Chryst after 7 full seasons at the helm and a 67-26 record. The move was curious, as Chryst had long had success without much drop off until this season, but with the impending expansion of the Big Ten and a modified scheduling system that will make the Badgers path to the Big Ten Championship all the more difficult, the decision was made to move forward elsewhere.
The pick for Wisconsin is an easy one, because there really should only be two candidates here. Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is considered a rising star in the coaching industry. A former walk-on for the Badgers, Leonhard went on to play in the NFL for nearly a decade before coming home to take on a coaching role. The move to part ways early with Chryst, a non-traditional move for the Wisconsin program, was designed to give Leonhard plenty of time to earn the position. I think he will (he is 2-1 as of this writing) but he will be tested with the need to find better offensive assistants in the offseason to spruce up the Badgers attack.
The other option is Lance Leipold, the Kansas coach that I circled for Nebraska in the last article. Leipold, like Chryst and Leonhard, is a Wisconsin native. He played at Wisconsin-Whitewater and returned to win six D-III National Championships before making the leap to FBS with Buffalo. Leipold was also a graduate assistant at Wisconsin for three seasons in the early 90’s. Leipold would serve to generate an exciting offense for a stagnant Badger squad that has struggled in recent years beyond running back Braelon Allen. According to reports, Leipold would absolutely take the Wisconsin job over Nebraska if offered both, putting Wisconsin in a great position to pick between only two rising coaches with ties to the area. However, with Leipold penciled in at Nebraska for these exercises already and Leonhard working the interim gig with all eyes pointed towards hiring him full-time, I’ll give the job to Jim Leonhard.
Colorado: Illinois Defensive Coordinator Ryan Walters
Colorado is a hard gig to nail down. The PAC12 is in a state of limbo as UCLA and USC prepare to move to the Big Ten and a shift in money between the power five conferences make spending a question mark for many programs. Eric Bieniemy is the obvious dream name, but I don’t see any way in which he leaves his post with the Kansas City Chiefs to take over at his alma mater. Instead, I’m looking to another alumnus who’s a rising star in the coaching industry as a large part of the rebirth of Illinois football in defensive coordinator Ryan Walters.
Walters was a safety for the Buffaloes in the mid 2000’s, including being named a team captain and team MVP in his senior season, and his father was a quarterback there in the late 80’s. His roots run pretty deep in the state for sure. Now obviously these can’t possibly be the only qualifications for Walters, who’s just 36 years old but has held a co or full defensive coordinator position since 2016 at Missouri.
Take a quick look at where Illinois ranks defensively, and I don’t mean just in the Big Ten. As of this writing (Week 10), Illinois ranks first in the country in completion percentage (46.4%), passing yards (1,373), passing touchdowns (5), and interceptions (16). Against the rush the Illini rank 5th in yards per carry (2.9), fourth in yards per game (79.7), and second in touchdowns allowed (4). In total defense, Illinois is first in yards per game (232.2) and points per game (10.4). Colorado ranks near the bottom of FBS is almost every defensive category, including sacks (6, dead last) and points per game (40.2) where they are behind only Charlotte (see below).
Taking a shot on a coach as young as Walters is always taking a big swing, but he’s a coach that boosters can rally behind to help pour money into the program because of his background. His defensive metrics are off the charts and he’ll be sought by other programs sooner rather than later. Its entirely possible that with the Big Ten money coming in, Bret Bielema could offer him a substantial raise to stick around, but if Walters feels like making the jump and trying to turn around the program he one suited up for, the opportunity is there for the taking right now.
Charlotte: Birmingham Stallions Head Coach Skip Holtz
Will Healy was thought to be a rising name in coaching circles the past few years, but everything went wrong with the 49ers in 2022 and the administration ultimately decided it was time to move in a new direction with the impending move to the American soon. Healy came from FCS Austin Peay as a young coach in his mid-30’s, and I expect the 49ers to look in the opposite direction this time around.
Enter Skip Holtz. Holtz is the reigning USFL Champion with the Birmingham Stallions, but many college football fans will remember him as a relatively successful coach at the group of five level. With stops at Connecticut in the mid 1990’s, East Carolina from 2005-2009, South Florida from 2010-2012, and lastly Louisiana Tech from 2013-2021, Holtz accrued a 152-121 record as a college football head coach. In his last stop at Louisiana Tech, Holtz won six consecutive bowl games and went .500 or better in seven of his nine seasons at the helm.
So why Holtz? Because he’s a proven coach at this level who found success in his year away in a professional league. The 49ers should be looking to find a proven name at the position that they can afford that can help win games as they step up to better competition outside of Conference USA. Holtz was also fairly successful at another school, East Carolina, so the area is not entirely foreign to him. The 49ers could certainly look to go back to the FCS pool and find a cheap option, and its not out of the realm of possibility they find a power five assistant that’s on the rise to fill the roll, but if I were advising this administration, I’d be focused on track record above all.